How to lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman

Introduction

The Ombudsman is a special officer of Parliament who has wide-ranging powers to investigate decisions, recommendations and actions of public bodies, both in central and local government.

The Ombudsmen also has the task of reviewing government decisions to refuse access to official information.

There are currently three Ombudsmen in New Zealand, situated in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Lodging a complaint

The complaint may be written or oral, although if it is made orally it must be put in writing as soon as possible. There is no fee for making a complaint.

You should make your complaint to the nearest of the three Ombudsman offices: for contact details, see the Ombudsman's website at www.ombudsmen.govt.nz. Copies of a complaint form can be downloaded from the website.

How does the Ombudsman investigate complaints?

The Ombudsman will consider whatever matters he or she thinks fit. The Ombudsman will inform the principal administrative officer of the agency in question that an investigation is being carried out.

The proceedings or investigation are carried out in private and are privileged. You as a complainant do not have an automatic right to be heard.

The Ombudsman may also refer the matter to the Privacy Commissioner (see How to complain to the Privacy Commissioner) or to the Health and Disability Commissioner (see How to complain about a doctor and How to be aware of and enforce your rights as a patient). If so, the Ombudsman must inform you of the decision and the reason for it.

Can the Ombudsman refuse to investigate my complaint?

The Ombudsman may refuse to investigate the complaint if:

  • there is another adequate remedy available, or
  • the matter is trivial, or the complaint is vexatious or frivolous, or
  • you do not have a sufficient personal interest in the matter, or

What if the Ombudsman upholds my complaint?

The Ombudsman has the power to make various recommendations if he or she finds that the decision, act, recommendation or omission in question:

  • appears to have been contrary to law, or
  • was unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory, or
  • was in accordance with a rule of law or a provision of any Act, regulation, bylaw or practice that is or may be unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory, or
  • was based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact, or
  • was wrong, or
  • involved the exercise of a discretionary power for an improper purpose or on irrelevant grounds or without giving reasons

The Ombudsman can then make recommendations to the agency concerned as he or she thinks fit, and request it to notify him or her, within a specified time, of the steps the agency proposes to take to comply with the recommendation. The Ombudsman must send a copy of his or her report or recommendations to the relevant Minister or Mayor or Chairperson.

If the agency in question fails to take appropriate action, the Ombudsman can report the matter to the Prime Minister and the House of Representatives.

The Ombudsman's office will inform you of the result of the investigation and of the agency's response to the recommendation.

Ombudsman's recommendations are not binding

The Ombudsman's recommendations are not binding on the agency to which they are directed. However, despite this the Ombudsman is frequently able to obtain a remedy for a complainant, sometimes without even a formal investigation.

Cautionary notes
  • While it is a much more expensive and time-consuming exercise, you may have the legal right to bring an action in the High Court to challenge an administrative decision made by a government department. In general, this type of action (called "judicial review") cannot review the merits of the particular decision you are challenging, and is confined to the process by which the decision was made. You will need to consult a lawyer if you are considering bringing an action for judicial review.


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